Cracking the egg code: free range, pasture-raised, cage free, organic and omega-3 enriched


Time was when eggs were just eggs. Life is a lot more complicated now with too many choices and encoded labels to define those choices. Every carton of eggs these days will have a label which says “free-range”, “organic”, “pasture-raised” or “cage free”. That’s great to know, but what does it all mean? Does it have any bearing on the nutritive value of eggs? Apparently it does because how the hens were raised and treated can impact the nutrition in an egg.

Lets start with cage free: Eggs that come with this label have come from hens that are left to roam the barn free, however with no access to the outdoors. These eggs are nearly the same as conventional eggs.

Free range: These hens are left to roam the outdoors. What this looks like is a matter of finding out for yourself – that is, whether the hens get to wander a grassy landscape or walk on concrete is just your guess. However, according to research findings, free range eggs are well endowed with beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, much more so than conventional eggs.

Pasture-raised: These hens are supposed to be roaming around fresh pastures, yet if this is actually the case or not one cannot say because there is no clearcut definition of what a pasture should be, and hence we would have to hope that the term is being used in it’s truest sense. Supposedly a pasture is a place where hens get to be themselves and behave in a way that is completely natural for them. Nutritionally, these eggs have lower levels of cholesterol and saturated fat, yet boast much higher levels of beta carotene, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids.

Organic eggs: These hens did not receive antibiotics or hormone treatment and were fed organic feed. However, they might have had limited access to the outdoors. Nutritionally, they are also a rich source of vitamins and beta carotene, much more so than their cage-free or free-range
counterparts. However, this point is debated amongst scientists, some of who say they are nutritionally not so different from conventional eggs. The fact that they haven’t been pumped with hormones or antibiotics is merit enough though.

And finally we have omega-3 enriched eggs. This basically means that the hens were fed with omega-3 supplements such as flax seeds, along with their regular feed.They may have been allowed limited access to the outdoors. They are obviously a rich-source of omega-3 fatty acids, up to five times what we find in conventional eggs.

This information on eggs is by no means everything there is to know about different types of eggs. As I learn more about my food, where it comes from or what goes into it, I am inspired to share my knowledge. Please add to the information as you think fit.

Nanditha Ram
Nanditha Ram is a Reiki master and yoga and wellness coach, holistic therapist, and writer, living and working in New Zealand.